A Monticello, Ill. family has reached out to a Morton organization for help as their special needs daughter makes the transition into independent living.

Dane and Lori Strube first heard about Heart of Morton through one of their daughters, Megan Levitt, a special needs teacher in Morton. The Strubes enrolled their daughter Nicki, 29, in the program as a way to ease her into the Morton community before she moves to that village permanently. While Heart of Morton does not provide housing assistance, it does provide social and emotional support for their program participants.

Heart of Morton began in 2010 when a group of parents with special needs children realized high school graduates do not have a lot of options after high school. The organization’s initial goal was to provide information on resources that were available for young adults and the steps it needed to take in planning for care in regards to guardianship and estate/trust planning. In 2012, Heart of Morton launched a day program that gives participants camaraderie and the chance to work on general life skills. Heart of Morton participants meet from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Friday at the Community United Church of Christ, 300 N. Main St., Morton.

“There are other agencies that provide service Monday through Thursday but Friday is an off day, so we figured we’ll just fill that gap,” said Heart of Morton Director Earl Loring. “Primarily what we do is provide a cultural context and a social context. Every week, we have a planned activity either (at Community United Church of Christ) or an excursion, a fieldtrip out in the community. It’s all built around these guys getting together and supporting each other having fun doing things together and getting to know each other better after high school.”

The Strubes know that Nicki could eventually face a future without them. Based on a concept they first heard about from Community Choices in Champaign, they have bought Nicki a house and are looking for roommates. Community Choices is a program very similar to Heart of Morton.

“We’ve seen some places in Champaign that have done this,” said Nicki’s father Dane Strube. “It’s not a whole lot but there are some, and the kids just seem happier because they have the independence to come and go. Nicki always says, ‘We’re going to my house.’ It gives her a sense of being like other kids who get to live on their own.”

When asked about the move Nicki said, “I’m excited but a little nervous.”

Dane Strube felt the same.

“We’ve told her the options are a group home or a nursing home, and she loves this idea,” said Dane Strube. “We think it will be great.”

Nicki has cerebral palsy, developmental delays, and autism. The idea is to find two female roommates ready for independence with similar needs and issues as Nicki. Each roommate would provide their own personal care team, if needed, and a supportive live-in would be provided for security and reassurance in the evenings. The Strubes are looking for a nursing student, a graduate student, or someone interested in working with special needs adults to live rent free as a supportive live-in.

“When we are dead and gone, we’d like for her to be already set in place so she can take care of herself, and she’ll have her sister Megan to look over her as well,” said Dane Strube.

Heart of Morton participant Erin Hefner, 33, is also ready to move out but will stay close to her parents. When a home near their property became available, Kate and Bob Hefner knew it would be perfect for their daughter. Erin will get the independence of having her own space yet is close enough to her parents in case of an emergency.

“We have been struck by lightning, our house, and we were struck by lightning in a van so storms are kind of scary,” said Kate Hefner. “With the golf cart she can just maneuver over, or if she’s not feeling well, she still has her bedroom at home. It’s a win, win situation.”

Loring said parents and service providers want their young adults to have a life like any other adult.

“A life like any other includes housing and living as independently as you can,” Loring said. “Most of our adults are very high end, high functioning, communicate really well, ambulatory with a couple of exceptions for wheelchair needs. Those kind of young adults just need the opportunity to live on their own if they so desire, and that’s why I think it’s a wonderful thing what the Strubes are doing.”

For more information about Heart of Morton, call 309-370-4621 or email heartofmorton@gmail.com.